The coronavirus outbreak has created an urgent need for raw materials used to manufacture medical necessities. Materials like isopropyl alcohol (IPA), a key ingredient in hand sanitizer, and butyl rubber, which is used to make a component of medicine bottles.

ExxonMobil is a supplier of both IPA and butyl rubber to Europe and we are making every effort to contribute where we are needed. As soon as we saw the rapidly increasing need for these materials we began to work out how we could focus our resources to help.

Increasing supply of IPA to support demand for medical needs

Responding to the coronavirus outbreak

Isopropyl alcohol is a main ingredient in hand sanitizer.

IPA is a vital product to protect health care workers and frontline key workers, who are at risk of coming into contact with the virus while they continue to perform their essential jobs. “IPA is a key ingredient for the manufacturer of hand sanitizer, as well as for a broad array of medical related end-uses,” explains Luca Malfatto, Fluids Sales Manager for the Europe, Middle East & Africa region.

To increase the supply of IPA in Europe, we began by reassessing our supply chain – which begins at ExxonMobil’s Baton Rouge facility in the US. We wanted to certify as much of our IPA as ‘pharmaceutical grade’ as we could. ‘Pharmaceutical grade’ IPA has passed a series of specific quality tests and is used in hospitals and certain medical applications.

“We have grown the quantities of pharmaceutical grade IPA that we have available,” says Luca. “This is enough to enable the production of an estimated 6 million additional 250ml hand sanitizer bottles for Europe. We were able to significantly increase the amount of ExxonMobil™ IPA Pharmacopoeia to the market in March 2020 (compared to pre-COVID numbers) and we are achieving similar results in April.”

Finally, collaborating with our distributors has also enabled us to serve community institutions in need, such as the Santhea care network in Belgium, by donating IPA for conversion into hand sanitizer. You can find out more about the different donations we are making to help fight coronavirus here.

Ensuring supply security for butyl rubber

Other medical necessities are less well-known, but no less vital. Butyl rubber is needed to make the bottle stoppers that keep injectable medicines sealed and sterile. Butyl is a material which was pioneered by ExxonMobil back in 1937 and we began supplying the pharmaceutical industry in the mid-1960s.

Butyl rubber is used for medicine bottle stoppers because it creates an impermeable, resealable barrier and does not fragment.

Butyl rubber is used for bottle stoppers because it creates an impermeable, resealable barrier and does not fragment when pierced by the needle of a syringe. Our customers have made us aware of the importance of continuing the manufacture of butyl stoppers throughout the coronavirus outbreak – with huge quantities of medicine being used every day.

We keep a long base of dedicated inventory for our pharmaceutical products and our butyl rubbers teams are working tirelessly to enable a secure supply. ExxonMobil makes pharmaceutical grade butyl at its UK site in Fawley and at Baton Rouge and Baytown in the US.

“Our business continuity plans have been deployed,” says Aranzazu Guisuraga, Butyl Polymers Market Development Manager EMEAF at ExxonMobil, “including measures aimed at secure supply of our critical raw materials, contingency for potential production disruption, robust inventory and cyber security.”

Once again, we are doing everything we can to service the urgent needs of medical manufacturers. “Our sales, product management, supply chain and manufacturing teams have been working very closely,” says Aranzazu, “putting the pharmaceutical grades at the top of their daily activities.”


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